The History of the Flowbee

You might be overdue for a haircut, but you cannot go out of your house because of lockdown in your area or some other reason. Even if you have a good pair of scissors, it’s not so simple to cut your hair yourself to your liking. Have you heard of the Flowbee? It can make cutting hair easier, more precise, and less messy, too!

In case you were too young (or weren’t alive yet) during the late 1980s, the Flowbee is a hair trimmer attached to a regular vacuum cleaner. It straightened the hair, munched on it with clippers, and then sucked the hair clippings into the canister. It was one of those silly inventions that came towards the end of that decade, but man, it did work like magic! And it still does.

You can also read online user reviews and watch demo videos about the Flowbee on YouTube. Users – almost all men – are raving about the wonders that Flowbee does to their hair. According to them, it is easy to use, trims their hair to their liking, and most importantly, it has saved them hundreds of dollars from several trips to the barbershop.

The hair-raising story of the Flowbee

Like a lot of great ideas, there is some confusion as to how California-based carpenter and inventor Rick Hunts was struck by the idea for the Flowbee.

There are a couple of versions. In one version, Hunts was intrigued by a TV show demo he saw in 1979 that demonstrated a hair being cut while hanging upside-down, thus freeing it for clipping. In another version, Hunts was in his workshop, and he used a vacuum to suck in the sawdust from his hair. Then all of a sudden, a bright idea loomed on him like a turned-on lightbulb. That idea, of course, eventually became the Flowbee.

Whatever the case, Hunt couldn’t let go of his crazy hair-grooming idea that he went to develop. It took him six years and four prototypes (the last one involving about 50 modifications) before arriving at the perfect vacuum attachment. He initially dubbed it as “Vacucut.” He tested it first on his children’s hair.

The Vacucut could cut hair in any length, from a half-inch to six inches. Using the vacuum’s suction power, the Vacucut could pull the hair straight in a similar manner that a stylist holds the hair between their fingers. Once the hair is pulled straight up, the clippers inside the Vacucut trimmed the excess hair, which would wound up into the canister.

Hunts truly believed that his invention would be a success. He managed to raise $100,000 from investors and even sold his cabinet shop for additional funds to get his product ready for the mass market. He also courted several major grooming companies such as Conair, Norelco, and Remington, as well as several beauty salons to see if they would take an interest in his creation. All of them rejected him, saying his idea was nuts.

For the beauty salons’ part, they feared that the Flowbee might work as advertised and result in fewer customers because the device would allow them to cut their hair in the comfort of their own homes.

Upset, Hunts decided to promote the product on his own. He went to several country fairs, where he demonstrated the product by having a volunteer to come up on stage. Hunts sold his Flowbee at a modest $150 apiece.

He needed a better way to promote the Flowbee to a broader audience (and potential customers), so he spent $30,000 to produce and buy airtime for a 30-minute infomercial spot, which started airing in 1988. These infomercials were usually broadcast on late nights. Soon, more people found themselves aiming their vacuum nozzles at their heads to cut their own hair.

The Flowbee became so popular that many pop culture references were made about it. It was featured in the 1992 film Wayne’s World, where the device was referred to as the “Suck Kut.” It also got mentions in the series Glee, and in films like The Spy Next Door. It also found great favor among astronauts aboard their space stations.

By the early 1990s, the Flowbee had been sold in major retail chains. Hunt’s San Diego-based company, Flowbee International, had sold over 200,000 Flowbees by 1993. By 2000, over two million Flowbees had been sold.

Until the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Flowbee International is still in operation, with its factory presently based in Kerrville, Texas.

A big comeback

The Flowbee is a hot item once again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. People in locked-down areas are either forced to stay in their own homes or choose to avoid going to salons and barbershops for fear of contracting the virus. With the Flowbee, people can cut their hair by their lonesome, and to their own liking – mostly with satisfying results.

Unfortunately, though, the pandemic has also brought the cessation of activity at Flowbee’s factory in Texas, so it means it has no plans to ship new products for the time being. For now, you can try its rival Robocut (its company still sells it), or you may purchase new or slightly used Flowbee units from other online stores if you’re lucky.